My Favorite Songs For Experiencing God

In 2012, I wrote the following: “I think that I would be less of a person if I did not have music in my life. And I also think that God uses music to reach us because to experience music is to participate in something that is more than just an intellectual exercise or a rational exchange but a spiritual activity… I also find that when I am enjoying music the most is also when I am most in tuned to God and his inspiration.”

I still believe this today, so I decided to create a playlist full of 12 songs that have helped me in my attempts to Grow Up. Music is a very subjective thing, so some of you may be perplexed by some of my choices but I guarantee you that some of the songs will have great impact on your ability to reflect on God, your own life story and God’s work around you.

Get the playlist.

Scripture tells us to behold the glory of the Lord. One of the best ways I know to do this is through music and these songs are at the top of my list to make that happen.

To listen to the full playlist and see my notes on how these songs have impacted me, donate any amount here and I will send the playlist to you.

For a preview of five of the songs see my Facebook page from this week.

Happy listening.

Get the playlist now.

photo credit: under the bridge

Essential Components of Growing Up

Each week, I will be providing a glimpse into the discipleship training program that I have just started. This is a way for me to show you what I am learning and also allow you to progress along with me. For more information, I encourage you to read this. Also, if you like what you are reading, will you consider donating so I can continue with the program and be able to provide more interesting content so we can all reach true Christian maturity.

Why am I writing this blog? Why am I spending so much screen space and digital characters on Growing Up?

Because Growing Up is hard to do and few people try to show you how to do it. Too many times, the only advice that is given is to pray more and to read your Bible more. There is nothing wrong with this advice, and much benefit can come from doing these two things but the advice neglects trying to understand how human beings work, our unique giftedness under God, and best practices from 2,000 years of Christian living.

James Bryan Smith, in his Apprentice book series, reveals what he calls the Triangle of Transformation. There are four components of the triangle – Adopting the Narratives of Jesus, Engaging in Soul-Training Exercises, Participating in Community, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Do you see how this is a much more well developed and robust approach to Growing Up?

Scripture reading and prayer are important parts of developing the right narratives and are essential exercises but they are just a few elements that make up the Growing Up process.

The four components of transformation show us how the Holy Spirit works through a small group of believers, how other spiritual exercises work the right spiritual muscles, and how learning from Jesus how he thought and spoke about his Father help bring clarity and focus to our attempts at Christian maturity.

What about you? Which component have you been neglecting? Let me know if there is an element of Growing Up that you might need some help with. I will be happy to show you what I know and am attempting to practice.



The First Step In Growing Up

For a 20-year old who needs and wants to grow up in the normal societal sense, they must take on more responsibility and become less dependent on others (parents, teachers, friends, siblings) to manage their life and make progress toward adulthood. They need to have a healthy mixture of independence and a sense of responsibility.

stairs, man, person

For a Christian believer, no matter their age, who wants to Grow Up in a spiritual sense, their need is quite different from practical life maturity. Growing Up for the Christian begins with less dependence on the self and full dependence on God. Responsibility is important but it is you taking responsibility for your Growth and doing whatever is necessary to allow God to bring you to maturity.

My own spiritual breakthrough came from the realization that I had not placed Christ at the center of my life. I had not made him Lord of my life. I had to lose the grip I had on managing my own life and trust that Christ’s ways were infinitely better than my own ways. I had to lose my independence (self will) to Christ in order to gain independence back.

You see, now, under the Lordship of Christ, I am no longer under the confines of my own limitations, imagination, and circumstances. Instead, I am an inhabitant of the Kingdom of God with the promises and gifts of Christ at my disposal. That is incredibly freeing.

Do you want to Grow Up?

First, surrender your independence and place Christ at the center of your life. This was the first step for me and I have never regretted it.

AE Journal: Chief Apprentice

Today, I start my chronicle of the Apprentice Experience, the 18-month training in discipleship that I am embarking on. I spoke more about this last week.

AE was started by James Bryan Smith, a professor of theology, author, speaker, and self described Forrest Gump of American Christianity. His background was not in the church, yet, he was picked out by Spiritual Formation maven Richard Foster to be mentored. He never really ran in Christian celebrity circles yet musician Rich Mullins showed up in one of his classes and ended up living in an attic apartment in Smith’s house. He often says that his sermons and messages are basically the same wherever he goes and that they lack sophistication yet he was told by the brilliant and much revered Dallas Willard that he was the one that should develop a Curriculum for Christlikeness. He also had the privilege to be mentored and taught by giants in the field of ministry and the Christian spiritual life – Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning.

Hopefully, what Smith will be most well known for is his Apprentice book series. I have read these through several times and have used them for Bible studies, small groups, and for mentoring college students.

The first book, The Good and Beautiful God, unpacks the character of God by looking at the way that Jesus described and thought about his Father. The second book, The Good and Beautiful Life, focuses on what makes a good life and takes the reader through a study of the Sermon on the Mount. The third book, The Good and Beautiful Community, works on living the Christian life in a social context of work, family, church, and community.

The framework found in this series is the anchor points for the Apprentice Experience and one that I find insightful, profound, and accessible.

I have found that Smith is not concerned with pushing some gimmicky plan or fad insight to make him look clever or sell more books. He simply wants to teach others ways to know the God he knows.

Through the Apprentice Series, he does just that.

No Human Solution

In the aftermath of much tragedy in our country, we have heard from many dignitaries and public leaders about our need for transformation as a nation, to end hate, to show love through our actions not just with our words.

At the memorial service for the five officers killed in Dallas, President Obama said,”I believe our righteous anger can be transformed into more justice and more peace. Weeping may endure for a night but I’m convinced joy comes in the morning.”

I applaud these leaders for calling for love, peace, compassion, and empathy. But I know, from my own experience, that transformation, that Growing Up, will come through the indwelling of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Dallas Willard once said, “There are no human solutions to human problems.” That is a provocative statement that could be debated in particulars but the point is still valid. What capacity have humans shown to change themselves? To suddenly turn hate to love? From lying to truth? From contempt to peace? The evidence is strongly against the thought that, on our own, we are able to make such drastic heart changes.

Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

Your job is not to take on the responsibility of becoming more loving and kind on your own, as much as we may want to. Your job is to abide in Christ – to pursue him, listen to him, seek his guidance, call for his transformation in your life, tap into his dwelling inside you. Then you will start to bear fruit, then you will start to demonstrate love and compassion, then you will be a change agent.

What about our nation and community? Not until you change and share the transforming power of Christ with others will we see widespread and lasting change.

photo credit: Larry Smith/epa


The Package

Last week, I received the package that will shape much of the next two-years of my life. One package that has in it much of the plan that will be instrumental to the next steps in my spiritual journey. My life may never be the same from this point forward.

My training in spiritual growth and discipleship through the Apprentice Experience starts in earnest Aug. 1 but we already have our reading materials and our weekly assignments. We (27 to be exact) are preparing, reading, and studying in preparation for our first week long gathering in late October and early November in Wichita, Kansas. These gatherings will be our first time together as a group and will include times of study with our instructors and master teachers. Also, we will share in spiritual training exercises, times of prayer, spiritual direction, Communion, and fellowship. The theme of this first Gathering is “Narrative, Identity, and the Kingdom of God.”

The ups and downs of the last few weeks in my spiritual and personal life have made me desire the benefits and enrichment of this program even more. God is really doing some amazing things in my life and more is on the way, I believe, as I dive into the readings and exercises through Apprentice Experience. At the same time, I have been faced with many doubts and obstacles that have discouraged me in my pursuit of participation in this program.

See a video about the Apprentice Experience

One thing that I have been encouraged by is the amount of financial support I have received. The fact that there are people out there that understand this strange journey that I am on and believe in it enough to donate their precious resources is humbling to me. Still, I am in need of an additional $339 to meet my first payment responsibility and $4000 to complete the full payment for the program.

Donate Now

God has so much in store for me in this journey but also for you, the readers, as I share what I am learning and let you live vicariously through me in this program.

This is a wild ride, it already has been, and I want to share it with you. Every twist and turn will be chronicled in this blog.

Won’t you consider donating and partnering with me. You know I value your input and support beyond what I can express. This is an unbelievable opportunity for me and I want to share it with you and others. Help me make this happen.

By contributing you will receive the following:

At least $25 – The Grow Up Playlist full of songs that have helped me in my spiritual life.

At least $50 – A sample chapter of an eBook I worked on a few years ago called More of Christ, Less of Everything Else.

At least $75 – A resource pack full of the list of tools that I use to grow closer to God.

At least $100 – A short eBook that I am creating called the Devotional Lives of Famous Christians.

Donate Now

When You Tell Jesus To Go Away

Occasionally, I teach a Bible Study at my church. Yesterday, I taught from Luke 5:1-11. This is the story of Jesus telling Peter and other would be disciples to, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” If you have read this before, you know that once the disciples did this, the load of fish that they caught was so great they needed help just to get the fish to shore.

What struck me about this passage and how it relates to Growing Up is Peter’s initial response to Jesus after Jesus told him to “put out into deep water.” Peter said, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Peter’s response was reluctant, skeptical, and downright doubtful. He was really telling Jesus that Jesus didn’t know what he was talking about and that nothing is going to change. Peter gave Jesus a courtesy response with little expectation of anything significant happening.

By the end of the story, Peter is so ashamed at himself and his lack of faith that he falls to Jesus’ knees and tells Jesus to “go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Is Jesus talking to you? Is he asking you to go deep? Are you being asked to put down your net one more time even though it feels as if you have already done it a 100 times with little result?

You need to have more confidence than Peter. Read scripture, pray, meditate, worship, speak that word to a friend, and listen to God once again.

Let down that net and see the abundant catch that only Jesus can provide.

In Times of Crisis

In times of crisis and tragedy, the tendency is to double down on suspicion, bias, prejudice, rationalizations, and fear.

As a mature Christian, what you should be doing is doubling down on devotion, repentance, forgiveness, and love. Point fingers at yourself and see where change needs to be made and find a plan to change it.

There is too much at stake to not reach your full Christ-following potential. The cry of the world is for God’s people to live out their faith with wisdom and compassion and to show others how that is done.

The Spiritual Effect of Poor Male Leadership

Here is a cycle that has contributed to the stunting of men’s maturity in Christ:

Poor or lacking male leadership leads to fewer and less effective men’s ministry leads to women’s models of growth and discipleship being the only option leads to men not being interested in spiritual growth leads to poor or lacking male leadership.

In my post last week on how groups of men can grow spiritually, I presented a snapshot of a men’s small group that was in high contrast to how women bond and build community with one another. As I stated last week, women prefer sharing, touch, compliments, and emotional intensity. Men prefer humor, challenges, activity, deep purpose, and marks of progress.

As men become less and less a part of church life and leadership, the only model for spiritual growth is the female model of maturity in group settings. The men who are left and searching for a way to Grow Up but are not as interested in the female way and so dismiss small groups or studies as something that is not for them.

There is nothing wrong with the way that groups of women Grow Up but that model can’t be the only option.

Men, there is a way to Grow Up as individuals and in groups. I am willing to try out some of these ideas. Let me know if you are interested.

photo credit: wikimedia commons

What We Need Is Not Another Bible Study

Are you an American Christian that is addicted to studies and devotionals?

“Serious” Christians probably attend 1 to 2 1/2 studies a week. In addition, you probably have multiple devotionals coming through to your email as well as all of your Twitter scripture feeds and social media religious memes. Not to mention blogs such as this.

In the middle ages, there were no books, few people could read, and even if you could read most of the materials available would be in a different language. Yet, despite this lack of information and access to study materials, the Christian faith continued to expand and in some pockets of the world, flourish. Mission efforts included whole regions being won for Christ. Monasteries were overflowing with men and women hungry for God.

File:Giovanni Bellini St Francis in Ecstasy.jpg

For devoted people of the Middle Ages, and the Early Church, for that matter, things of faith weren’t lab experiments that needed to be dissected, put up to the light, or analyzed from every angle. The things of faith were aspects that needed to be lived out, contemplated, and shared. Scriptures were prayers, models for living, and a way of life, not theories that needed to be discussed and arguments that needed to be won.

Was there corruption in the church, misinformation, abuses of religious power, and personal hypocrisies. Of course, but for those who were truly devoted to Christ, their faith started with the person of Jesus Christ not the study of the person of Jesus Christ and his word.

Perhaps we need to simplify our study and devotion time so we can get back to the purity of following Christ.


photo credit: public domain/giovanni bellini